What You Say: Bootcamp Workshop on Communicating More Powerfully

When most startup entrepreneurs think about communication, they think about content. That’s why we invited Executive Coach Nicole Lowenbraun from communications training firm Speakeasy to our Envestnet®  | Yodlee® Incubator Bootcamp on February 27-28 in San Francisco. In the communications workshop hosted by Lowenbraun, she emphasized that it’s how you say what you say – not what you say – that can really influence whether or not your message is heard. The 3 keys to communicating effectively are: 1. Authority (I’m ok)— Not to be confused with rank or title, authority is the main message that resonates from the speaker. It’s an I have a right to be here” message that conveys confidence, leadership, and executive presence. Lowenbraun explained how owning your own space communicates authority. And how you hold your body affects your space and how your listeners perceive you. She demonstrated how Bootcamp attendees could hold their body to project authority and how the wrong stance robs the speaker of authority and allows people to make judgements before the speaker even opens their mouth. Another aspect of authority is owning your time, and not data dumping or rambling when you speak. Lownbraun pointed out the most common fillers people use between sentences is not “um” or “uh,” but conjunctions like “and” or “so,” which come across as rambling. She provided a few tips to help Bootcamp attendees minimize conjunctions and get the message across more clearly. 2. Energy (This matters) — Energy is saying things with passion, with commitment, and with conviction. It’s saying “this matters” through voice and projection. Bootcamp attendees practiced projection by sending their voice to their colleagues across the room, picturing their words moving from their voice, making an arc, and directly hitting recipients. Vocal variety, the ups and downs that occur as you speak, also convey energy. Parents who use character voices to read to kids are natural experts at using vocal variety. Articulating your words is also important, says Lowenbraun especially for those who have an accent or happen to use multisyllabic words. 3. Listener Awareness (Talk with them, not at them)— It’s essential to connect with your audience, and a lot of the rules we’ve heard about public speaking aren’t necessarily true – for instance, picking a spot on the wall or on your audience’s foreheads and speaking to that spot doesn’t show listeners you care about them. And scanning the audience as you talk doesn’t allow you to actually connect with them. Lowenbraun shared a few tips on how to better connect with listeners. Visually connecting with your audience is key – but if people smile and nod, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, says Lownbraun. Some people are just smilers and nodders. If people give you a skeptical look, she says that might indicate they need time to process what you said. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to keep on explaining. “Hold that visual connection with audience members to get that ‘capisci’ moment, as we say in Italian. Which in business is a buy in,” says Lownbraun. The overarching trait = authenticity (Just be you)— Authenticity is the most important quality of all, says Lowenbraun. In other words, it’s ok to bring yourself to work, and to be yourself when you speak. Perhaps you can’t learn how to be funny, but if you’ve authentically got humor, use it to your advantage when speaking. If you’re a good storyteller, you can use that to your advantage. Lownbraun emphasized that we need to practice communicating all the time – in the coffee shop, in the elevator, with friends, and over the phone. Don’t wait until the presentation to practice, or it’ll come off as unnatural, she says. And don’t worry if  initially your presentation seems unauthentic, choppy, or mechanical. It’s like learning a new instrument or a new sport. Eventually as you practice, it’ll become authentic.  “There is no one, from millennials to CEOs, who can say ‘my communication is awesome, I don’t have to work on it any more,’” says Lowenbraun.“We’re always working on communication. Think of this as a journey and continue to practice. The more you practice, the better off you’ll be.” Because the startups in the Envestnet | Yodlee Incubator will be pitching to an audience of investors at our Demo Day on May 11, it was essential to get them up to speed on communications techniques early, so they will have time to follow Lowenbraun’s advice and practice before they get on stage. Plus, the reality is that an early stage entrepreneur is always pitching, always trying to communicate their vision, whether to investors, customers or job candidates. For us, improving the communications skills of our Incubator companies is a valuable investment in their future.